TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.08-3.09 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”

Episodes 3.08 and 9 “Human Nature” & “The Family of Blood”
Written By: Paul Cornell
Originally Aired: May 26and June 2, 2007

Synopsis: “In order to hide from a family of murderous aliens who are following his scent across time, the Doctor disguises himself as a mild-mannered English schoolteacher in 1913, even rewriting his own memory to complete the charade. Only Martha holds the secret to his identity as the Doctor, with orders to not bring him back to himself until the time of danger has passed. But the Family of Blood appears sooner than expected, and the Martha realizes that she may have lost the Doctor for good this time…” (synopsis by me)

While undoubtedly an excellent story, it’s not exactly quintessential Doctor Who. It lacks most of the humor and optimism that the show usually strives for, and thus may not be the best introductory episode for a new viewer. But then, it was never intended to be an introductory episode. Rather, it explores an intriguing possibility that the Doctor Who universe makes possible, but doesn’t often investigate. What if your mild-mannered, bookish professor was secretly a time-traveling superheroic alien, and even he didn’t know it? How many other people with vague pasts scattered throughout history could be the Doctor disguising himself for months at a time? Smack in the middle of an intense season, “Human Nature” and “The Family of Blood” build heavily on the emotional continuity that comes before. While the plot is self-contained and engaging by itself, the real reward of this two-parter is in seeing where it takes the Doctor and Martha in their respective arcs.

John Smith: Mankind doesn’t need warfare and bloodshed to prove itself. Everyday life can provide honour and valour. Let’s hope that from now on this country can find its heroes in smaller places. In the most ordinary of deeds.

We see, if we hadn’t noticed before, that Martha really does work harder than any other Companion. By sheer perseverance, loyalty, cleverness, and humility, she navigates the complex relationships and frustrating class-based (and race-based) hierarchies of the British boarding school system. She puts up with the Doctor ignoring her even more than usual in his guise as Professor John Smith. She resists opening the watch that holds his Time Lord identity, because he told her not to. She tolerates her heart breaking as he falls in love with Nurse Joan Redfern, an event he, as the Doctor, had not foreseen. She suffers, and waits, and works, and talks sense with force and energy when she hopes it’ll do any good. And, as before, she is generally overlooked and underappreciated by everyone around her. Even Joan, normally a very sensitive and perceptive woman, fails to really see or appreciate Martha.

The Doctor-as-John-Smith’s romance with Joan Redfern is very sweet and believable, making it that much more painful for Martha to watch. For seven episodes she has pined for the Doctor, hoping against hope that he might wake up to her. She knows he is capable of love because he himself still pines for Rose, but since she had never seen him with the object of his affections, the reality of it had never quite hit home. Now she watches him fall in love right before her eyes and sees him happy, attentive, and belonging slowly but steadily to someone else.

John shows Joan his diary of drawings, where he records his strange dreams of aliens and time travel...

As it happens, this is not only disastrous for Martha’s emotions but also to everyone’s safety. The less the Doctor-as-John-Smith trusts her, the harder it will be for her to bring back his Time Lord identity and fend off the murderous Family of Blood. And so the story’s power is magnified because the danger to Martha and the Doctor’s relationship runs parallel to the danger to their lives. Everything could be fixed if only the Doctor were back to himself! He’d at least acknowledge Martha as his important friend and deputy, he wouldn’t get sidetracked with domestic romance, and he most certainly would send those scarily mundane aliens packing! Such we viewers know, and thus it is more alarming how completely the Doctor has fallen into his own disguise. John Smith certainly has a few of the Doctor’s personality traits – a warm, energetic optimism that can quickly become grimly serious if the situation warrants it, for one – but he’s also strikingly different. When John begins to learn about the Doctor and to believe the Time Lord is real, he is horrified: who is this person who endangered the lives of everyone at the school on a whim (after all, he could have chosen any place in time and space to hide), who is permanently nomadic and alone, and who couldn’t even anticipate the possibility of falling in love?

Which brings me to what I think is the story’s most heartbreaking and fascinating element: the choice of John Smith to die and become the Doctor again. See, we always expect the Doctor to know what he’s doing. Even when he says he’s making things up on the fly, we generally feel that he knows the risks involved and what he’s prepared to do or not do. But here the Doctor miscalculated. When he uses the chameleon arch to become completely human for a few months, his memory and personality is completely subsumed into John Smith, a man who considers himself imaginative, but fairly practical when it comes to things like reality. He thinks Martha is crazy when she tries frantically to tell him that the aliens have arrived and that he must become the Doctor again. And when he’s later forced to accept the facts of things, he’s terrified. Martha demands that he change back so he can save them all, but John Smith doesn’t feel like the Doctor. He doesn’t know the Doctor. Even if the memories are fake, they are all John Smith knows. For him, becoming the Doctor again isn’t returning to himself, it’s ending himself completely.

Martha: All you have to do is open it and he’s back.
John Smith: You knew this all along, and yet you watched while Nurse Redfern and I—
Martha: I didn’t know how to stop you! He gave me a list of things to watch out for, but that wasn’t included.
John Smith: Falling in love, that didn’t even occur to him?
Martha: [beat] No.
John Smith: Then what sort of a man is that? …And now you expect me to die?!

A glimpse of a very pleasant, potential future...

Of course he makes the change, or else we wouldn’t have the rest of the show. And, while we’re immensely glad to see the Doctor again – and delightfully defeating the aliens in their own ship with virtually no effort at all – we’re also a little bit sad at seeing John Smith go. He was such a decent fellow, with such promise. The show doesn’t let our emotions off easy, either – it shows us the potential for John Smith’s life; happily married to Joan, with beautiful children, a pleasant career (possibly becoming an early sci-fi novelist, I presume), and not putting anyone’s life in danger. We know that he must change, because he isn’t truly John Smith, but while he’s in that guise John Smith is the only himself he knows. And so Joan’s final words to the Doctor sting all the more because there is some truth in them – though she may be too harsh on him because she doesn’t know the whole story, still there is much truth: many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and ultimately John Smith is braver than him because John Smith chose to die to save others.

It’s such a serious story, and while I don’t enjoy it as much as many other episodes (due to the rarity of humor and prevalence of deserved angst), I remain fascinated by its insights into the Doctor and Martha’s characters. The Doctor saves the day, but you’re not quite sure if he made the right choice. Hiding from the Family of Blood was intended to be an act of mercy from him, to give them a chance to escape the terrible punishment he had for them. Yet many people died because the Doctor chose to hide at the school, and a vulnerable widow’s heart was broken. And then the Doctor’s final punishment for the Family – is it too much? This terrible, poetic judgment – would execution have been more just? Questions worth asking. Good must punish evil, but the Doctor is not God. The show does seem a bit confused on that issue, though. It freely lets him be vulnerable and his actions questionable, but he is also called “ancient and forever…he burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”  Such phrases I would apply only to God.

He's not God and he's sometimes wrong...but he's still really really cool!

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.07 “42”

Episode 3.07 “42”
Written By: Chris Chibnall
Originally Aired: May 19, 2007

Synopsis: “On a spaceship headed straight for the centre of the sun, The Doctor only has 42 minutes to save Martha and the rest of the ship’s crew from an inevitable doom…” (Wikipedia)

I always get this episode confused with the “Impossible Planet”/ “The Satan Pit” story from Series 2. They both involve a claustrophobic space station where one crewmember gets possessed by an alien malevolent and starts sabotaging and killing in creepy ways. The color scheme is also similar, with hot orange and reds predominating. The earlier story is better, but this one has its charms.

The Doctor: “Keep moving, fast as you can. And Martha, be careful; there may be something else aboard the ship.”
Martha: “Anytime you want to unnerve me, feel free.”
The Doctor: “Will do, thanks.

The title refers to how many minutes the crew has before the ship’s course into the sun is irrevocable; of course, it also refers to the episode being set in the 42nd century, not to mention the Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything (according to Douglas Adams, also a writer for the classic show). Conveniently, it also happens to be just short of the standard episode length, leaving a couple minutes on either side for the pre-title sequence and the credits. But anyway, the show plays out in real time, frequently reminding us how much time is left before everyone crashes into the sun. There’s lots of running, shouting, and perspiring, as is the norm for Doctor Who, and it’s all enjoyable, if not superb. We’ve seen this done before, but it’s always a bit scary when the alien malevolent so ruthlessly kills some people, and then possesses others.

That space suit sure looks familiar.

Two side characters stand out: the captain, a woman named Kath, and a friendly, but lonely, crewmember named Riley. I liked them both, as I was meant to. Kath is an excellent leader, being strong and loving simultaneously. She can take the Doctor’s advice while retaining her authority (the Doctor has a way of nullifying or “commandeering” the authority of nearby authorities, intentionally or not). She is clearly heartbroken as her crew starts to die off but continues to give orders, not least because the possessed killer is her own husband. It’s hard for her to fight him, to treat him as a monster to be fled from or killed, but the Doctor reminds her that her husband is already dead, and that the thing inhabiting his body must be stopped. When the moment comes when her possessed husband has her trapped, and she looks in his eyes with a face full of love and sorrow, whispers “I love you,” and presses the button that sends them both floating out of the airlock towards the sun, you want to cry and cheer at the same time. It’s a beautiful moment.


While the Doctor and Captain Kath are trying to figure out how to restart the engine of the sabotaged spaceship, Martha tries to fix other areas of the ship with the aid of Riley, a warm-hearted young man who quickly falls in love with her. They work well together, and the scenes where they work their way through a series of doors that can only be unlocked by answering trivia questions that the crew thought up when they were drunk (such as “CLASSICAL MUSIC: Who had the most pre-download Number Ones: Elvis Presley or The Beatles?”) manage to be funny and tense at the same time. The romantic element is sweet also. Martha is a sensitive, observant person: she pays attention to people and their feelings. So it makes sense that Riley, who explains to her how he really has no one to love him in all the world, nor to love, becomes attached to her. In one instance they are trapped in an escape pod that’s been forcibly ejected, and believe they are going to die, enveloped by the fire of the sun. It gives them a few minutes to open up to each other, and Martha realizes that here is a man whom she could love, who is already ready to love her back. There’s a little sadness, a tinge of regret, at the end, when she steps into the Tardis to leave him, still hoping against hope for the Doctor, but consolation in the fact that they both are a bit stronger and happier for having met each other.

The concept of a star being alive is a beautiful one that has been used in much other fiction (such as A Wrinkle in Time). I don’t really like the way it’s used here, though. The spaceship is mining the sun’s plasma for its fuel, and this action is equated with some kind of horrific torture or rape, for which the sun seeks revenge by possessing members of the crew and turning them into serial murderers. The writers are clearly trying to shove some kind of moral down our throats, but which is it: that mining for resources is bad, or that non-biological creature abuse is bad? Or both? The former moral isn’t very moral at all. The problem with the latter moral is that the crew had no way of knowing that the sun was a living creature, nor likely even the concept. This renders the Doctor’s angry accusations rather unfair; it’s one of the annoying traits the writers keep giving the otherwise pretty excellent Ten. He’s too easily angered, and often fails to consider the entirety of a circumstance and its context. But fortunately, this “message” isn’t given much weight, and the writers are more interested in the fate of the crew, as are we.

There are some interesting moments for the Doctor and Martha as well. At one point the sun actually manages to possess the Doctor himself, causing our favorite Time Lord to feel more fear and pain than he usually does. He cries out to Martha commands and pleas while clawing at his eyes and trying to stay on his feet. “I’m scared! I’m so scared!” he gasps, as she holds him. He even starts trying to explain regeneration, showing how close death seems to him, as well as his memory of Rose’s shock at experiencing his previous regeneration uneducated. But his fear is something deeper than mere death – he’s afraid the sun will make him a mindless killer, as it has some of the other crew. His peace-loving hero’s heart breaks at the thought.

The dénouement is nice too. Back in the Tardis, safe, the Doctor finally gives Martha a key. A Tardis key. Of course, he could have given it to her at the end of the last episode, when he officially accepted her as a full Companion, but nevermind. I guess the writers wanted to spread out their heartwarming moments. Still, the giving of the key is a sign of the Doctor’s complete trust, and I think we can all agree that Martha richly deserves it.

The Doctor: [explains his plan]
Captain Kath:That is brilliant.”
The Doctor: [quite pleased] “I know! See? Tiny glimmer of hope.”
Crewmember: “…If it works.”
Captain Kath: “Oh believe me, you’re gonna make it work.”
[Crewmember leaves to do his job.]
The Doctor: [smiling] “That told him!

Credits: All screencaps from killcolor.

TV Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.06 “The Lazarus Experiment”

Episode 3.06 “The Lazarus Experiment”
Written By: Stephen Greenhorn
Originally Aired: May 5, 2007

Synopsis: “The famous Dr Lazarus has appeared to discover the secret of eternal youth – but do his experiments hide a sinister secret?” (Wikipedia)

The pre-title sequence is quite interesting for what it reveals about our two protagonists. It ends on a hilarious note, but before that it shows us just how little the Doctor understands who Martha has become to him. After all of their adventures thus far—saving a hospital on the moon, helping Shakespeare fight off space-witches, liberating the citizens of New New York, thwarting the Daleks in the Depression—the Doctor still thinks this has all been part of his one “ride” he promised her as a thank-you in Episode 3.01 “Smith and Jones.” He takes her home, expecting to just drop her off and return to his private travels. And Martha, displaying extraordinary emotional strength and reserve, accepts this. Oh, she is hurt, make no mistake. She’s incredulous at first. She has become much more than just an incidental traveler, and the Doctor should know better than to treat her as one. Without meaning to, he insulted her. Continually oblivious to her feelings, he mistakes her incredulity as referring to his ability to return her to the very day after she left home. And in a very quick space of time, Martha comes to grips with this, and thanks him. Very sincerely, looking him straight in the face, she says “Thank you, for everything.” “It was my pleasure,” he says, smiling, and walks into the Tardis. The magnificent machine whoosh-whooshes, and disappears.

…And reappears a few seconds later. Did that man on the television just say he was about to change what it means to be human?

This isn’t one of my favorite episodes, by any means, but it has some strong points. Dr. Lazarus is very well-acted by Mark Gatiss (a sometimes-writer for the show). He draws out some pathos from the idea of this man who so desperately wanted to cheat death and return to his youth so that he could have more lifetimes to accomplish all the wonderful things he wanted to do. And the climax in the cathedral is pretty neat. The Doctor has a good conversation with Lazarus, and for a short while there is hope of redemption. When that fails, and the raging monster is back, the Doctor manages to defeat it by the strategic amplification of music from the church organ. To call the fact that this works a stretch is an understatement, but it’s kind of cool nonetheless.

Sometimes I think Tennant just took the job so he could make all sorts of funny faces.

Alas, the weak spots are quite glaring. Firstly, I was disappointed that the plot about Lazarus seeking youthful regeneration so quickly took a back seat to one long monster chase, which isn’t nearly as interesting as the stuff before. The story as a whole ends up being pretty simple and shallow. And the monster itself is both ugly and utterly nonsensical. I really wish Greenhorn had just stayed with his first idea instead of trying to blend to different types of stories.

My second objection is the ridiculous evolutionary aspect which is used to explain why Lazarus is suddenly turning into a huge inside-out lobster-spider-thing. Somehow Lazarus’ reverse aging process unlocks in his DNA a “rejected potential” lifeform that the supposed evolutionary ancestors of humans could have evolved into, but happily didn’t. Somehow, this DNA got “activated,” thus causing the man to involuntarily turn into a monster or back to a human. Even evolutionary scientists should scoff at this, much more those of us who reject the theory of biological evolution. Sure, this is science fiction, but it’s so ridiculous and given such a cursory explanation that the whole episode feels really weak because of it. And it’s so unnecessary to the initial story about Lazarus seeking to cheat death! So much could have been done with that premise, but Greenhorn seems to have preferred a simple monster chase.


Two more observations. One, we meet Martha’s family again for the first time since “Smith & Jones,” and they are mostly unlikable. Her sister shows some warmth and good sense, but does not have much to recommend her. And her mother has the dubious honor of being unlikable despite having completely understandable and justifiable reasons for her actions. Mrs. Jones, you see, is hugely suspicious of the Doctor for whisking Martha away without any notice or explanation, and she spends the whole episode constantly nagging Martha about it and giving the Doctor dirty looks. We also notice that Mrs. Jones is constantly being fed anti-Doctor sentiments by discreet tuxedoed agents claiming to work for a mysterious Mr. Saxon. Interestingly, what these men say about the Doctor is generally true—that death and destruction follow in his wake, that his Companions don’t always live, etcetera—but naturally leaving out the fact that he’s always trying to save the day from evil influences. Anyway, the point is that Mrs. Jones is understandable, but annoying and unlikable, and we think back to Series 1 and 2 and marvel that Jackie Tyler managed to convey all the same concerns about the Doctor while still being lovable and tender.

The second observation is a very nice one. At the end, the Doctor finally accepts Martha as a full Companion. He takes some prodding, though. At first he only offers her another “last ride” as a thank-you for this adventure. Martha, sensibly, says no, it’s all or nothing, this time. She can’t let herself continue to suffer the emotional uncertainty of being always seen as a temporary passenger in the Doctor’s eyes. She’s absolutely right about this, and fortunately the Doctor realizes this, and gives her the full position. Martha, always gracious, accepts happily and without bitterness regarding his previous insensitivities.

The Doctor: There’s no such thing as an ordinary human.
Lazarus: [sneers] You’re so sentimental, Doctor. Maybe you are older than you look.
The Doctor: [solemn] I’m old enough to know that a longer life isn’t always a better one. In the end, you just get tired; tired of the struggle, tired of losing everyone that matters to you, tired of watching everything you love turn to dust. If you live long enough, Lazarus, the only certainty left is that you’ll end up alone.
Lazarus: That’s a price worth paying.
The Doctor: Is it?

Like I said, funny faces.

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episodes 3.04 – 3.05 “Daleks in Manhattan” & “Evolution of the Daleks”

Episodes 3.04 and 5 “Daleks in Manhattan” & “Evolution of the Daleks”
Written By: Helen Raynor
Originally Aired: April 21 and 28, 2007

Synopsis: “[In 1930s New York] The Doctor and Martha confront a host of surviving Daleks from the Canary Wharf battle. What are those creatures in the sewers? And why are the Cult Of Skaro attempting to create a Dalek/Human hybrid…?” (Wikipedia)

Bet you didn’t know that Daleks built the Empire State Building! Yessiree. Perhaps you remember how, during the Battle of Canary Wharf in “Doomsday” (the incredible Series 2 finale), the Cult of Skaro escaped through an “emergency temporal shift.” These four elite Daleks, specially selected to preserve their race by thinking creatively, ended up in Depression-era New York, where they started plotting again. Concepts like this are just pure Doctor Who. The historical ones tend to be my favorites not only because I’m a history buff but also because it’s fun to see how the show works its alien mythology into the details of the real events of the past.In this two-parter we see Depression-era New York recreated with great flair and convincing atmosphere. It’s the exaggerated New York of our imaginations, as shaped by movies and high school American history courses. The almost-completed Empire State Building towers over the gleaming Chrysler Building and the rest of the sprawling megacity, while the fabulously wealthy amuse themselves as they try to ignore the hordes of unemployed homeless that gather in Central Park’s Hooverville. Against this backdrop the Doctor and Martha have a good, pulpy adventure involving an exploitative businessman in over his head, Dalek treachery, and goofy-but-creepy pigmen who stalk the sewers and the backstages of theaters.

It being many months since I watched it, I admit that I had forgotten a lot of this story. For a reason I am not sure of, it gets overshadowed in my memory by the smaller episodes preceding it and the more astounding ones that come later in the season. Yet upon revisiting it (through YouTube!) I found it to be quite entertaining, and a strong, if hardly perfect, example of what Doctor Who is all about.

Humanity is well-represented here. The emotional core is provided by the (somewhat) tragic love story of showgirl Tallulah and her boyfriend Laszlo. They are a genuinely sweet couple, and I liked how their story played out, pig nose and all. They aren’t assured a happy ending, but are given the means and freedom to have one. A victim of the Daleks’ experiments in fusing human DNA with pig DNA, the mutated Laszlo nevertheless retains his sharp mind, his dignity, and all of his considerable virtues, including courage and a romantic heart. The other notable good human is Solomon, the de facto leader of Hooverville, who is struggling to maintain peace and order. In a scene which is not so much symbolism as direct adaptation from the Bible, he settles an argument over a loaf of bread by splitting it in half, one half for each hungry man. His wisdom also extends to his dealings with the Doctor and the Daleks. Recognizing the Doctor’s superior knowledge, he often supports him, but not to the point of setting aside what he knows to be right. When the Daleks attack Hooverville, Solomon attempts to reason with them, even though the Doctor and Martha have told him that they are emotionless killers. But Solomon can’t just accept their word for it—he knows that the right thing to do before using violence is to try to reach peace through other methods, and he must try. He even says that the appearance of these aliens, however terrifying, only causes him to be amazed at the vastness and glory of God’s creation—a sentiment I certainly appreciate! Alas, the idealistic ones rarely live long in modern shows, and good Solomon is incinerated by the Dalek—but not before greatly impressing Dalek Sec.

You know, the pigmen are actually kind of creepy, especially when they're stalking you in the sewers or in the forest at night.

Ah, Dalek Sec: “the cleverest” of all Daleks, the leader of the Cult of Skaro and the Dalek general at the Battle of Canary Wharf. His plan, to ensure the survival of the Daleks, is to splice their DNA with human DNA in the hopes of gaining humanity’s knack for adaptation and invention. I don’t favor the idea of genetic splicing, as it involves the concept of being able to scientifically change someone’s species. This seems to come from a purely naturalistic worldview, and is incompatible with a Christian view of the relationship between body and soul. Yes, this is science fiction, but even in speculative fiction a writer speculates according to his worldview. But anyway, moving past that objection, I do find it interesting how this concept is used to further develop Dalek Sec’s character and, indeed, to show the Daleks in a whole new light.

Once Dalek Sec uses himself as the prime test subject and assimilates human DNA, he gains emotions, independent thought, and even some morals. Of course, the other Daleks cannot tolerate this, but it’s interesting to watch the Doctor’s reaction. I think back to Episode 1.06 “Dalek,” in which the Ninth Doctor so vehemently resisted the idea of offering mercy and compassion to the Daleks. But here, the Tenth Doctor realizes that there is a chance for something new and wonderful—a redeemed Dalek, a good Dalek. The influence of Rose is still felt in Ten’s ability for compassion, although Martha has had an effect that way as well. Solomon’s heroic martyrdom also left an impression on the Doctor, as well as on Dalek Sec. And the best thing is that even when Dalek Sec is slain by the other Daleks for treachery, the Doctor doesn’t forget this hope. When he confronts the last remaining Dalek at the end, Dalek Caan, whose DNA is still resolutely pure Dalek, he offers it mercy. He offers it help to change and to start anew in peace. The Doctor makes an effort to love his enemy. He’s not perfect, but he tries, and that’s the right thing to do. Dalek Caan’s response?


Darn it! So close. Well, the Dalek race lives on to reappear again. When? We’ll just have to wait and see, won’t we?

Tallulah: Doctor, can’t you do something?
The Doctor: [softly] Oh, Tallulah with 3 L’s and an H… Just you watch me. What do I need, oh I dunno, how about a great big genetic laboratory? Oh look, I’ve got one. [runs around grabbing equipment.] Lazlo, just you hold on! There have been too many deaths today; way too many people have died. Brand new creatures and wise old men and age-old enemies, and I tell you, I tell you right now, I am not having one more death!

Other Reviews: The History of the Doctor
All screencaps from killcolor

TV Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.03 “Gridlock”

Episode 3.03 “Gridlock”
Written By: Russell T. Davies
Originally Aired: April 14, 2007

Synopsis: “The Doctor and Martha return to New Earth to find it has been laid out as a horrendous trap, stuck in a giant and long traffic jam under the streets of New New York.”

A rather grimy, almost claustrophobic episode is this one. We return to New New York (first seen in Episode 2.01 “New Earth”) to find it a dystopia. The premise is ridiculous, but a bit frightening precisely because it’s based on something relatable: we’ve all felt, at various times, that we were spending most of our lives stuck in traffic. Well, the residents of New New York really do spend most of their lives stuck in traffic! And their flying cars float in a massive underground tunnel-road, meaning they can only get out of their vehicles every few months, when they inch up to a loading dock.

Bring a bandana...or a gas mask! The flying-car fumes are that bad.

As an adventure it’s fairly interesting and well done. Martha gets kidnapped by a desperate couple who need her in order to, essentially, use the carpool lane, and the Doctor gives chase. The best parts feature him jumping from rooftop to rooftop of flying cars while searching for her. It’s a near impossible task, but he never gives up.

But it’s not an episode that demands rewatching. The setting is convincingly portrayed, but ugly because of it. Some of the side characters are interesting and well-played (including the young couple that kidnaps Martha), but writer Russell Davies again indulges his political ideas by going out of his way to include lesbian characters (and, rather uncomfortably, a marriage between a human woman and a cat-man that produces children). The gap between Davies’ morals and Christian morals is made more awkward by the usage of the Christian hymn “Abide With Me” to celebrate the liberation of the citizens at the end. I like the song, and I like that the humans sing it, but coming from the pen of Davies it almost feels like mockery because we’ve seen how little he cares for Christianity.

Aviator cat-man-with-Scottish-accent is really cool, but it's creepy that he married a human woman.

The main reason to see this episode is for the reappearance of the Face of Boe, that ancient and mysterious creature that was first, and briefly, introduced in Episode 1.02 “The End of the World.” Reputed to be the oldest living creature in the universe, he is now dying, and he chooses to gives his last words to the Doctor; it’s a prophecy, in fact: “You are not alone.” What does it mean? Martha presses the Doctor, but he sadly rejects the possibility that there is another Time Lord out there. The Time Lords are all dead, he explains, having died in the Time War against the Daleks along with their planet. So the Face of Boe must be wrong, or must mean something else, he insists. Of course, this is a plant for something to be revealed later in the series, but it does lead to the Doctor opening up to Martha with a beautiful description of Gallifrey, his long-destroyed home planet, in its prime. After two adventures, he finally pulls up a chair and tells her something of who he is and where he comes from. It’s nice to see him recognize how important this is for a companion to hear. The adventure is over, now it’s time to talk.

Martha: When you say “last time”, was that you and Rose?
The Doctor: [he pauses, somewhat taken aback by the question] Um… Yeah! Yeah, it was, yeah.
Martha: [looking put off] You’re taking me to the same planets that you took her?
The Doctor: [surprised, oblivious] What’s wrong with that?
Martha: [disappointed, upset] Nothing! [starts to stalk away] ‘Cept have you heard of the word “rebound”?

Source of Photos: Killcolor
Other Review: Doctor Who Reviews

TV Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.02 “The Shakespeare Code”

Episode 3.02 “The Shakespeare Code”
Written By: Gareth Roberts
Originally Aired: 7 April 2007

Synopsis: “The Doctor takes Martha back in time to Elizabethan England where they meet William Shakespeare and try to solve what sent the architect of the Globe Theatre to the madhouse.” (Wikipedia)

A fun, beautiful-looking episode, very similar to Episode 1.03 “The Unquiet Dead,” with its darkly lush historical setting (see the header image), and its topics of great English literature and creative inspiration. I love how the Doctor is such a huge fan of Earth’s artistic traditions. He loves Charles Dickens, he quotes Shakespeare with glee, and he even reads Harry Potter! (“Wait till you read Book 7. Oh, I cried.”) (In the next season you will discover that he also enjoys Agatha Christie’s Poirot.)

I question the Doctor’s assertion that Shakespeare was the greatest genius of all humanity, but it is neat that the Bard’s brilliance, quick-wit, and intuition render the Doctor’s psychic paper ineffectual on him. Normally the Doctor can just flash his wallet of psychic paper—which is actually blank—and people will see whatever he wants them to see on it (a special ID, tickets to a concert, etcetera). But Shakespeare not only sees the blank page, but he quickly deduces its nature and the fact that the Doctor is from the future. Quite a shocker that should be, but it only delights the Doctor. A true fanboy!As may be expected, there is much comedy gained from the running gag of the Doctor “accidentally” feeding Shakespeare many of his own famous lines (“The play’s the thing. And yes, you can use that.”), as well as a few that aren’t Shakespeare’s (The Doctor: “Rage, rage, against the dying of the light…” Shakespeare: “I might use that.” The Doctor: “You can’t, it’s someone else’s.”).  And it turns out that the Bard is almost as big a flirt as Captain Jack, though considerably more eloquent. Never one to be politically correct, but always one to be romantic, Shakespeare is inspired by Martha’s beauty to write about his mysterious “dark lady.”

All in all, a strong, very entertaining episode, with no huge weaknesses that I remember.

[after landing with the TARDIS]
Martha Jones: But are we safe? I mean, can we move around and stuff?
The Doctor: Of course we can. Why not?
Martha Jones: It’s like in those films: if you step on a butterfly, you change the future of the human race.
The Doctor: Then, don’t step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?

TV Review: Doctor Who Series 3 Overview and Episode 3.01 “Smith & Jones”

[N.B. For Series 3 and 4, I’m switching to an episode-by-episode review format in order to speed up the posting process. The epic and glorious reviews are cool when they go up, but they take too long to finish!]

Series Title: Doctor Who
Season: Series 3
Original Air Date: March 31, 2007 – June 30, 2007
Length: 13 episodes, 45 minutes each
Head Writer: Russell T. Davies
Lead Actors: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones)
Content Advisory: Between PG and PG-13 level violence, very little blood, but some very horrific or nightmarish stuff is shown or implied, and some sexual innuendo.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: After the heartbreaking loss of Rose Tyler and the rejection of Companion status by Donna Noble, the Doctor continues his travels, this time with a bright young medical student named Martha Jones, who quickly falls into unrequited love with the dashing Time Lord.
Arc Phrase: “Mr. Saxon”
Reason for Watching: The rousing adventure, sharp humor, spectacular sights, all involving characters that feel real, organic, that change and yet are consistent, that think about their own lives and are worth caring about.
Episode Re-watchability: All Doctor Who episodes of the revived series have high entertainment value. Of this series, the most re-watchable are the “Human Nature”/”Family of Blood” story and “Blink,” which each can stand independent of the show’s continuity as excellent stories in their own rights.
Recommendation: A new viewer could start with this series, as the introduction of a new Companion means that the show’s premise gets re-explained. There are enough references to what happened to Rose that a new viewer would likely get the gist of that, too, despite not knowing the actual story of Series 2. The average quality of the episodes has risen slightly, with the standouts being the abovementioned stories.

Key Thoughts

The Doctor: Crossing into established events is strictly forbidden. Except for cheap tricks.

COMPANION – Martha Jones

Now here’s another surprise: on the surface, I should not have liked Rose, because of her selfishness, unsophistication, and frequent insensitivity; yet I found myself becoming deeply engaged in her character. Then comes Martha Jones, who on paper I should like much more than Rose because of her kindness, intelligence, and professionalism, and yet she left less of an impression on me. That’s not to say I did not like Martha Jones – she is a strong Companion, quite competent and amiable, cool under fire but with a ready smile. She participates in some top-notch stories and performs admirably through all of them. But I think that one season was the right amount for her; at the end, I was ready to bid her a friendly farewell.

The main reason for this, I think, is because she falls too quickly in love with the Doctor and is immediately and continually disappointed when he fails to consider her romantically, as if she is somehow entitled to his love. She knows about Rose – or, at least, she knows that the Doctor loved Rose but has recently lost her – and so should be more sensitive to his emotional condition. There are a few times, which I hope to point out in the episode reviews below, where I don’t think she is very sensitive.

However, I am grateful to the writers for not forcing the Doctor to enter into a new romantic relationship. Despite her emotional turmoil, Martha holds her tongue and doesn’t make too many inappropriate advances on the Doctor. And in a way, she does function as the Doctor’s pick-up after the heartbreak of losing Rose. She is a steady friend, a warm smile, an ardent admirer…and a skilled doctor herself!

Episode 3.01 “Smith and Jones”

Written By: Russell T. Davies

Synopsis: “The Doctor meets his latest companion, Martha Jones, in a hospital that’s abducted by the Judoon who are searching for the evil, blood-sucking Florence Finnegan.” (Wikipedia)

For someone new to Doctor Who, this would be a fine first episode; better than the first episode of Series 2, because the new Companion means a new set of side characters and drama. While Rose’s legacy is very much felt due to the Doctor’s occasional references to her, Martha has her own ambitions, her own dysfunctional family, and her own need to break the mundane rhythm of her life. The episode even begins similarly to “Rose,” with the zooming in on the cityscape from space and the quick establishment of Martha’s daily routines and stresses. Both episodes are also fast-paced and involve plots that are mostly just excuses to get the two leads working together.

"A platoon of Judoon on the moon!"

Not to say that the story of the rhino-headed Judoon mercenary police force seeking a vampiric alien criminal masquerading as a harmless old lady isn’t interesting, because it is. It’s not every episode we get to see an entire hospital teleported straight to the moon (“A platoon of Judoon on the moon!”). It’s also not every episode that we get such a glimpse of the political entities, federal laws, and regulations that may or may not govern the universe beyond Earth. The Judoon, we learn, are prohibited by intergalactic law from pursuing the alien criminal onto Earth, so they’ve removed the place she is hiding (the hospital) to “neutral territory” – i.e. the moon. Something about jurisdiction.

Another note: it’s always fun to see a human’s first reaction to the Tardis. “It’s bigger on the inside!” Yes indeed!

Mr. Stoker: There’s a thunderstorm moving in and lightning is a form of static electricity, as was first proven by – anyone?
The Doctor:Benjamin Franklin.
Mr. Stoker: Correct.
The Doctor: My mate Ben. That was a day and a half: I got rope burns off that kite, and then I got soaked…
Mr. Stoker: …Quite.
The Doctor: …and then I got electrocuted!

All screencaps from Killcolor

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episode 3.00 “The Runaway Bride”

Series: Doctor Who (TVTropes Recap)
Season.Episode: 3.00 “The Runaway Bride” (Christmas special between Series 2 and 3)
Original Air Date: Christmas Day 2006
Length: 45 minutes
Writer: Russell T. Davies
Lead Actors: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Catherine Tate (Donna Noble), Sarah Parish (Empress of the Racnoss)
Synopsis: “A bride suddenly materialises in the Tardis. The Doctor must get her to the church on time, but the Empress of Racnoss, an alien spider, has other ideas… “ (from Wikipedia)
Reason for Watching: This category on the rubric is no longer relevant for Doctor Who.
Episode Re-watchability: I’ve already rewatched it once, and it was nearly as fun as the first time.
Final Verdict: A tremendously fun episode and a good move forward from the emotional weight of the Series 2 finale.

Key Thoughts

“The Runaway Bride” hearkens back to the previous Christmas episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” but fortunately avoids treading exactly the same ground. The robot Santa-musicians with their killer Christmas trees are back, but now they are being remotely controlled by a giant alien spider queen (The Empress of the Racnoss, played incredibly over-the-top by Sarah Parish) who is trying to awake her thousands (or more?) of “children” who  are hibernating at the center of the earth.

That last sentence was exceedingly fun to write.

The plot’s back story feels too bold and illogical to be the subject of only a single episode, and if you think too hard about it (or much at all), it begins to fall apart. For instance, why are these ancient Huon particles supposedly so rare if they can be extracted from the hydrogen in water? But nevermind; the story is immaterial here. This episode is really about preventing the Doctor from wallowing in his grief over Rose and forcing him to move forward with his extraordinary life.

She often needs the obvious pointed out to her.

And he really has to move, too. Mere seconds after the portal to Rose’s dimension closes, wedding-dress-clad Donna Noble is standing bewildered on the TARDIS and screeching at him to take her back RIGHT NOW. This character is really an amazing balancing act. On paper she should be the most annoying thing ever, and yet somehow Catherine Tate gives her just enough intelligence (beneath her ditzy, oblivious surface), just enough kindness (despite her temper tantrums), and a reasonable amount of unlikely bravery that—in addition to being funny—she is actually a likeable character.

And regarding the strange man who is the Doctor, Donna can be remarkably perceptive. The real thrust of the episode comes after the adventure is over. The Racnoss, despite their horrible threat, have been defeated pretty easily by the Doctor, yet the victory was rendered unpleasant by the anguished screams of the Empress and her drowning children, and also by the unemotional grimness with which the Doctor listened to their pain far longer than he needed to. So it is that, at the end, when the Doctor offers Donna the position of full Companion—as I knew he would—she turns him down, citing the crazy danger of his life and how uncomfortable she is with how he deals with it (or the lack thereof).

I doubt many people have ever turned down such an offer in the Doctor’s history! Yet I think it’s good for him to experience rejection every now and again. Not everyone can, or should, be like Rose, dropping their loved ones and responsibilities in an instant to run off with him. For all her silliness and problems, Donna is an older and more mature woman than Rose, and her life experience causes her to see something about the Doctor that Rose never quite did. The Doctor needs Companions. If for no other reason than to stop him when he begins to forget mercy and justice, and instead indulges his anger at his enemies. The Doctor is not a god; he is limited, flawed, troubled, and often enough wrong. Donna realizes that being a Companion is more than just being a helper on a series of wild adventures—it means being the Doctor’s moral leash. At this time, that is too much a responsibility for her, she says, but the Doctor needs to seek out those who can do it. It is this piece of information we must keep in mind when examining Martha Jones’ role in the rest of Series 3.

As an ending note, this episode is not very Christmassy. It looks as if it was filmed in the summer (and it probably was) and has even fewer Christmas trappings than “The Christmas Invasion.” Not much of a holiday theme, either. I don’t think Russell T. Davies likes Christmas very much, the way he treats it.

The Doctor: You’ve seen it out there. It’s beautiful.
Donna: And it’s terrible. That place was flooding and burning and they were dying and you stood there like… I don’t know, a stranger. And then you made it snow. I mean, you scare me to death!

And we get to see the TARDIS actually fly! As in move through space instead of time! It's a pretty fun chase scene.
Don't we have big telescopes and satellites that would see this massive spider-web-comet-space-station-thing flying towards us?

Screencaps from…

Epic TV Show Review! “Doctor Who: Series 2”

Read my review of Series 1 here and my review of the 2005 Christmas Episode, “The Christmas Invasion,” here.

Barely Related Note: A Doctor Who/Highlander crossover series would be so indescribably awesome and beautiful that I can’t believe it hasn’t been done already. BBC Wales, please take note! You don’t have to credit me with the idea or give me royalties for it. Just work out the details with Rysher Entertainment and make it awesome. You’ll thank me later.

Series Title: Doctor Who
Season: Series 2
Original Air Date: Christmas Day 2005; April 15 – June 8, 2006
Length: 13 episodes, 45 minutes each
Head Writer: Russell T. Davies
Lead Actors: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler), Shaun Dingwall (Pete Tyler)
Content Advisory: Between PG and PG-13 level violence, very little blood, but some very horrific or nightmarish stuff is shown or implied. Also some sexual innuendo scattered throughout.
Spoiler-free Synopsis: The Doctor, now regenerated, continues his adventures in space and time with his young human Companion Rose Tyler.
Arc Word: “Torchwood.” First mention is in “The Christmas Invasion.” An arc word is a word or phrase that gets repeated mysteriously throughout the season, often with ominous connotations, only to be fully explained and exploited in the season finale. The arc words for Series 1 were “Bad Wolf,” a clue that Rose-as-TARDIS-goddess retroactively planted throughout their adventures in order to tell herself what to do at the climactic moment (yeah, it was complicated).
Reason for Watching: Loved Series 1, and just had to continue.
Reason for Finishing Season: It’s the Doctor! And he is always a blast to watch.
Episode Re-watchability: I could watch any of them again, but special mention goes to “The Girl in the Fireplace” and the “Impossible Planet”/ “Satan Pit” twofer. And the “Army of Ghosts”/ “Doomsday” twofer finale, if just for Mickey.
Final Verdict: For some reason the majority of Series 2 felt a bit less memorable than Series 1, and didn’t affect me quite as strongly. Nothing here surpassed the “Empty Child” / “Doctor Dances” twofer with Eccleston in sheer storytelling prowess, although “The Girl in the Fireplace” comes close. Still, there’s no denying this is very high quality entertainment, and a worthy second season for the show. Breaks my heart to leave Eccleston behind, but David Tennant does a brilliant job of making the Doctor his own character. Read more

TV Show Review: Doctor Who Episode 2.00 “The Christmas Invasion”

Since the full review of Series 2 is taking a long time, I am posting early the review for the special Christmas episode, which technically is a “bridge” between Series 1 and 2 and thus doesn’t get officially counted as the second season’s first episode, even though it follows directly from the Series 1 finale and plays first on the Series 2 DVDs. Despite being denied an official number, it’s still an important episode. If you go straight from Episode 1.13 “The Parting of the Ways” to Episode 2.01 “New Earth,” you’ll be missing some awfully important stuff.

Series: Doctor Who
Season.Episode: 2.00 “The Christmas Invasion” (special episode bridging Series 1 and 2)
Original Air Date: Christmas Day 2005
Length: 45 minutes each
Writer: Russell T. Davies
Lead Actors: David Tennant (The Tenth Doctor), Billie Piper (Rose Tyler), Noel Clarke (Mickey), Camille Coduri (Jackie Tyler)
Synopsis: “A newly-regenerated Doctor must battle the Sycorax. But he can’t do that when he’s lying unconscious in Rose’s house…” (from Wikipedia)
Reason for Watching: I think I’m now addicted to Doctor Who.
Episode Re-watchability: Not as much as the best DW episodes, but as with all of them, I could watch it again and be entertained.
Final Verdict: A fine transition into a new season and a New Doctor. This episode is a good example of one of the show’s key strengths and one of its weaknesses. The strength is how in tune it is with the reactions of its audience, such that it can guide the transition from one intensely charismatic Doctor to another quite gracefully. The weakness is its often-heavy-handed and hypocritical pacifism. However, I’ve come to accept that weakness as simply coming with the territory, at least while Davies is Head Writer.

Key Thoughts

He can sleep through an awful lot.

There was no guarantee Tennant would be popular, so the decision to keep him incapacitated for most of the episode (from his regeneration) was actually a shrewd one: aliens are invading and we feel liking yelling “Wake up, Doctor, WAKE UP!” We want him, we’re desperate for him to show up. And not just the audience, but the characters also. Rose sobs as she realizes that the Ninth Doctor is really, truly gone, and cannot come back. She’s not sure if she likes the Tenth Doctor, simply because he’s different and he replaced the Ninth. Both Jackie Tyler and Mickey are also a bit confused about the Tenth, unsure of how to treat him. Thus the supporting cast and the audience empathize with each other on the subject of Eccleston’s leaving.

Heroic Mickey. He's trying, at least.

The plot involves a typical, straightforward alien invasion that’s not too interesting by itself, but does allow for some memorably goofy bits. Evil street Santas, killer robotic Christmas trees, the Doctor getting saved by a cup of tea and challenging an alien overlord to a sword duel while in his pajamas…you know, typical Doctor Who! The feel is very reminiscent of Series 1’s pilot “Rose,” with the killer mannequin zombies, where the plot is just an excuse to introduce the new characters. We also get to see our old friend Harriet Jones, former M.P. of Flydale North, now Prime Minister because of the level-headed way she navigated the British government through crisis in Episodes 1.4-5 “Aliens of London” and “World War Three.” And oh yes, that mysterious name Torchwood is becoming more dangerous.


Here is where that hypocritical pacifism comes in that I don’t buy or like. The Doctor beats the Sycorax leader in single combat and, per their agreement, forces the Sycorax to retreat from Earth peacefully. But as the Sycorax spaceship begins to fly out of Earth’s atmosphere, PM Harriet Jones makes a call to Torchwood, and a green Death Star-like laser shoots out from the city of London and destroys it. Furious, the Doctor claims that she is the real monster because she breached a peace agreement and committed murder; furthermore, he brings down her government by planting suspicions in the British public that she is “tired,” despite the fact she is still implied to be highly capable and intelligent.

I don’t think the Doctor is right to do this at all, but the show seems to agree with him. The peace agreement was between the Doctor and the Sycorax, and he did not consult Jones or any other Earth leaders for it, meaning it had no authority. The Doctor was presumptuous and arrogant in doing that. Plus, the Sycorax were warlike and bent on the destruction of humanity – how is Jones to know that they have a sense of honor or keep their word? So many aliens we’ve met in the series haven’t. It wasn’t the most chivalrous thing for Jones to do, but I don’t think it was wrong. It was shrewd, and the Doctor was out of line to deny Britain the right to protect itself.

Don't try to stick your tongue out to catch the holiday's first snowflakes -- they're really pieces of burnt aliens.

The reason this bugs me more than usual (such as similar pacifism in Episode 1.06 “Dalek”) is because it makes the end of this Christmas episode very bitter. Sure, it’s touching that the Doctor finally allows himself to share Christmas dinner with Rose and her family, but when it’s revealed that what they think is the season’s first snow is really burnt ash from the Sycorax ship falling back to Earth, what are we to feel? In the DVD commentary, Russell T. Davies says he wanted to avoid an ending that’s “too happy.” Well, he miscalculated for this one – Christmas shows are supposed to be “too happy.” That’s one of the reasons we have them in the first place!

But to end on a better note, we do get to see the Tenth Doctor put together his iconic and incredibly sharp costume at the end.

No no, not with the Christmas hat and the awkward caught-me-halfway-through-smiling! This one:

Good. If you’re going to travel through space and time, might as well dress right for it.

The Doctor: Am I… ginger?
Rose: No, you’re just sort of… brown.
The Doctor: [disappointed] Aw, I wanted to be ginger! I’ve never been ginger! And you, Rose Tyler! Fat lot of good you were! You gave up on me! [Rose looks annoyed] Ooh, that’s rude. Is that the sort of man I am now? Am I rude? Rude and not ginger.